Public Health and Wellness

Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is an “uneven condition of the body that may be characterized by an absence of disease or infirmity resulting from an unpredictable process.” A wide variety of other definitions have also been used over time to describe health. A standard definition of health is: “exceedingly good health with minimum risk.” Some additional definitions include: health, a state of well-being; health maintenance; health maintenance or management; good health; optimum health; balance health; essential health; disease prevention or control; prevention of communicable diseases; and control of adverse conditions.” It should be noted that the dictionary definition of health has changed several times since it was first published in dictionaries in 1903. The contemporary definition, which is the one commonly applied in the United States, differs slightly from the popular use of the word in the English language because it includes some definitions that were considered excessive or dangerous.


The definition of good health emphasizes self-care, stress management, and the avoidance of illness. Good health is achieved through control of potential risks and is also dependent upon the consistent application of preventative measures and the encouragement of sensible choices. Maintaining good health requires taking reasonable precautions to avoid exposure to illness. This can be done through control of food consumption, use of personal protective equipment, exercise, smoking, and weight control.

The National Institute of Health emphasizes the need for a healthy lifestyle through an adequate level of physical activity, including regular exercise, and through modification of current unhealthy behaviors (eg, smoking, alcohol abuse, and diet). Another factor of health status is the presence of chronic illnesses or conditions. These conditions can range from the serious and debilitating to the minor irritants of life such as headaches, colds, and muscle strain. A person’s ability to cope with stress, his coping strategies, and his immune system are indicators of his or her health status.

Stress can affect physical and mental health. In addition, individuals who work in high-conflict environments have higher rates of mental illness and are at higher risk of workplace injury. Work-related physical illness is associated with greater risk of mortality, disability, work-related death and illness, and work-related risk of mortality and disability. Work-related mental illness is characterized by higher rates of depression, stress, and anxiety, and poorer work performance, and poorer health outcomes. Mental illness often interferes with work and home functioning and impairs self care and organizational skills.

Health and physical disorders are linked in the study of both physical and mental health. When one is under constant physical stress, he or she may become more likely to develop physical illness. When one is under chronic mental stress, the possibility of developing mental illness is higher. Stress alters the body’s chemical systems, resulting in greater vulnerability to disease. The consequences of stress on health include higher blood pressure, increased risks of heart attack and stroke, and increased vulnerability to infectious diseases.

Public health and wellness interventions can promote physical and mental health through a range of activities that target these discretely. The promotion of physical activity is an important component of any comprehensive program. Schools, community organizations and corporations can each design programs that foster physical activity as a norm and aspire to healthy lifestyles for their participants. Programs that promote physical activity can include weight control, running or walking, gardening or sports. Community organizations can provide resources and support for their members to facilitate physical activity. A combination of programs from the above categories will yield the greatest benefits in terms of improved health and productivity.